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July 26, 2013

The Ghost of Stephen Glass Haunts the Halls of The New Republic But Mostly Just Offers Them Advice on How to Cook a Story

I could add this as a post-script to the last post, but it's sort of substantial and I don't want people to overlook it.

What we have on our hands is clear, inarguable evidence of partisan-driven bad faith on the part of The New Republic's writers and editors, and probably its super-liberal ideologue owner, too.

The New Republic demonstrated its commitment to dishonesty in its first stealth edit.

Here was their first claim about the 311 call about an unattended 7 year old boy wading out into traffic :

. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy.

Emphasis in original. Now, the facts came out, and they were not pretty for TNR:

[M]ost egregiously, Zimmerman’s call (to the non-emergency police number) regarding a seven-to-nine-year-old black boy was placed because Zimmerman was “concerned for [the] well being” of that child, who was walking unaccompanied on a busy street (see page 37).

At this point TNR knows it has the story wrong -- way wrong -- and we know that because they now endeavor to clean up their article with a stealth edit.

So this:

. . . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called 911 46 times in 15 months, once to report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy.

Becomes this:

. . Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the polics 46 times in 15 months, once to report on a seven year old black boy.

Emphases in original, except for that usefully-vague prepositional phrase "report on," which I highlighted myself to point out their game: Whereas before they had been rather specific (and false) about the call, now they seek to cover up the error by employing the very broad phrase "report on," which could mean a whole range of things, including, by design, their original false claim of reporting the suspicious activities of a seven year old.

Note well they do not change the sentence from a false one to a true one; instead, they merely edit it so they cannot be charged with explicitly saying that Zimmerman feared the criminal capacity of a seven year old black boy.

But they edit it in such a way that a reader is invited to draw that conclusion anyway -- a conclusion TNR now knows is false. They scrub the part where TNR makes a false statement in support of a false conclusion, but then are careful to leave the false conclusion alive in the minds of their dwindling readership.

Or, as the Faculty Lounge says:

TNR replaced "report the suspicious activities of a seven year old black boy" with "report on a seven year old black boy." The charitable characterization of this edit is that it is very, very lawyerly. Yes, the TNR piece no longer explicitly falsely claims that GZ called the police about a black boy because GZ found the child suspicious. But in the context of a paragraph meant to demonstrate that "[v]igilante justice . . . is especially menacing to minority racial groups who are often sterotyped as criminals," and in the absence of disclosing the benign (indeed, laudatory) reason why GZ did call police, the reporting of GZ's call about "a seven year old black boy" — complete with incredulity italics — strongly implies what the article only technically no longer says: that Zimmerman "reported on" a young black child because Zimmerman stereotyped that child as a criminal.

Now, there's one more wrinkle here: Now having stealth-corrected and deliberately attempted to keep a false conclusion alive and having been called on it, the New Republic simply deleted the reference entirely, again, in another stealth-edit. As The Faculty Lounge says:

Still, the most egregious error has been corrected: all traces of the seven-year-old boy are at last gone from the online pages of TNR (if not from the memories of however many people read the piece in the first 10 days of its existence).

Except that's not really a correction; that's simply a case of Destroying the Evidence.

Of course they persisted in not acknowledging the gross mischaracterization in the original piece. They wanted to ensure that anyone who had read and believed their original claims still believed those claims; they didn't want to correct the false impression they had given their readers.

All they wanted to do is to get people to stop noting that they were printing deliberate lies-- not dispel the lies with actual truth and confession of error.

Only now, after they have been repeatedly embarrassed by their deliberate fabrications, do they do what they should have done from the start:

State the actual facts truthfully, and confess their previous false reporting.

This is not the behavior of a magazine seeking to print the Truth. This is the behavior a magazine which has decided Stephen Glass was just a man ahead of his time.

The Faculty Lounge has further thoughts on the need for Truth in reporting, and in science, too, which you'd think would be rather obvious, but apparently the Magazine of Stephen Glass hasn't yet heard.


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posted by Ace at 02:41 PM

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